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Jun 23, 2023
“I’m Not Just Here to Smile”: Jenna Ortega, Elle Fanning and the THR Comedy Actress Roundtable

Sheryl Lee Ralph, Natasha Lyonne, Ayo Edebiri and Devery Jacobs also join the conversation about fighting stereotypes, digesting gross notes and the prospect of playing Pete Davidson’s girlfriend.

“My God, we are a breath of fresh, fabulous air,” declared Abbott Elementary’s Sheryl Lee Ralph as she looked around the table at Jenna Ortega (Wednesday), Elle Fanning (The Great), Ayo Edebiri (The Bear), Natasha Lyonne (Poker Face) and Devery Jacobs (Reservation Dogs) — all gathered on a late April morning for THR’s annual Comedy Actress Emmy Roundtable. Over the course of an hour, their conversation ranged from fighting stereotypes and finding agency to dismissing gross notes and having a little fun.

When fans approach you, what do they typically recognize you from and what do they say?

SHERYL LEE RALPH For me, it’s all about Abbott Elementary, and oh my God, it’s just such an outpouring of love. It’s the ones who talk to me in the bathroom, now that’s a problem. In the toilet at the airport, it’s like, “Oh my goodness!” Yeah, “Thank you, thank you. May I continue now?”

ELLE FANNING I had a funny one on a plane. It was a nighttime flight, I was full-on sleeping, and I get a little shake. This woman was like, “I was just wondering if you had any advice for an actor?” I said, “Just keep on moving.”

JENNA ORTEGA Wednesday has a much wider audience than I anticipated, at least agewise, so it’s older people and younger people. But I’ve had a couple of weird plane stories, too, where I’ve woken up to notes or things like that. I got off one yesterday, and at the end, the flight attendant took her hair down out of the bun and it was in two braids and she took her bangs down and she said, “You made me do this.”

AYO EDEBIRI A lot of people who are working at restaurants right now will be like, “Hey, The Bear was really awful to watch. Thanks for making it.” I’m like, “You’re welcome?” A guy also came up to me in Chicago and said, “Hey, I recognize you from the show and I really hated your character. She was really annoying. Great job.” I was like, “Thanks, dawg. Really appreciate it.” Or somebody will be like, “I worked a restaurant job, do you want to hear the seven worst things that happened to me?” There’s a lot of projection — beautiful projection that I’m grateful for, but a lot of projection on The Bear. I also [get recognized from] Abbott. I did an episode, and I was like, “Oh, I love this, people just love this show.”

You’re all here because you’ve done remarkable work in these projects. Who had reservations about taking on these roles?

ORTEGA When I first started acting, I was only allowed to do commercials because I had no connection to the industry, and then I was only allowed to do TV. Only recently was I able to start getting into the film world, and so the idea of jumping onto another show, when I had done so much TV already, was something I [didn’t necessary] want. My goal has always been film, so I was trying to focus on that. But then this was a character that was so legendary and so badass — it’s also the most well-known role I’ve ever taken, and [it was a chance to give] Latin representation to a character who has never really been shown in that light. And actually, when I was younger, I did this show where I referred to myself as “the Wednesday of the family” because there were seven kids and I was in the middle. I remember telling my mom at the time, “Oh my God, I’d love to play Wednesday Addams. But when would that opportunity ever come?” And then it came.

RALPH I really wanted to take a stab at Ava [the principal played by Janelle James]. I could see me doing that. It would be such a step away from everything that people had ever seen me do before. Quinta was like, “Absolutely not. That’s a dealbreaker.” I was like, “OK, OK.” I’m glad I listened.

EDEBIRI I think there was some hesitation in just taking on the role because I was like, “Oh, this person is unlike me. I will have to be acting if I get this part.” I started in comedy, and so I think the box that I put myself in was, “Cool, I’ll be playing millennial assistants for another five years and then maybe I’ll get to play Pete Davidson’s girlfriend or whatever.” Sorry, and I would be honored to, I would literally revel in the opportunity.

NATASHA LYONNE Ayo, no! I mean, lovely guy, funny guy, but …

EDEBIRI I’m just saying, I’m employable! (Laughter.) But, yeah, I didn’t really think that Chris Storer, who created The Bear, would see me in that space because he knew me from comedy and as a writer. Also, just on a real note, I was like, “If this show doesn’t get picked up, how am I going to get into a writers room?” I’m worried about a check a lot.

LYONNE When I got the offer for Orange Is the New Black, I was coming out of a period that was so similar from being an actual criminal that it didn’t feel like such a leap, even though the script was excellent and I was dying to work with Jenji [Kohan]. And then Russian Doll, which I started writing while I was still in the middle of Orange, was really my baby; it felt like my life’s work. And then now, of course, with Poker Face, just the idea that Rian Johnson wanted to do this thing with me — I love Rian so much that honestly it could have been bad and I would’ve probably done it anyway.

DEVERY JACOBS For me, there was zero hesitation with Reservation Dogs. It was more me actively pursuing and wanting to be a part of this project because it’s such a groundbreaking series. It’s the first series with all Indigenous writers, all Indigenous directors and all Indigenous core cast. I was like, “Oh my God, could I have fucking manifested this?” I reached out to [showrunner] Sterlin Harjo, like, “Just so you know, I’m going to audition.” And he was like, “Oh, you’re not right for the part.” Like, you can’t play a teenager anymore and all these things. I was like, “I’m still going to audition,” and I did, and then I got a callback. Basically every step of the way I had to fight, but I ended up booking the role.

Sheryl, in reflecting upon your early success, you’ve said, “Everybody was telling me what to do and how to be and how to act, which is why I’m fiercely in charge of my own life now.” I’m curious what that looked like then and now, and who here can relate?

RALPH I liken fame to a machine. You can stand outside of it and look, but once that door opens and you get in, it takes you up on different levels. It’s a different experience. The more you rise to the top, there are more people who are going to tell you this and that and how you can be. If you don’t have a firm foundation of who you are in this industry, it will eat you up. One day, you might look in the mirror and not know who the hell you’re looking at. I’ve seen that happen over and over. But then I’ve also realized fame frees people up to be exactly who they are. So, for me, as a grown-ass woman, it’s about knowing who I am.

FANNING It’s so inspiring to hear that from someone who has been in it for such a long time and [knows that] grind of how people love to put you in a box. I was very protected, I have an amazing manager and agent who’ve been with me since I was 8 or 9, same people, which is —

RALPH Rare.

FANNING Very, and I recognize that. I’ve never told this story, but I was trying out for a movie. I didn’t get it. I don’t even think they ever made it, but it was a father-daughter road trip comedy. I didn’t hear from my agents because they wouldn’t tell me things like this — that filtration system is really important because there’s probably a lot more damaging comments that they filtered — but this one got to me. I was 16 years old, and a person said, “Oh, she didn’t get the father-daughter road trip comedy because she’s unfuckable.”

RALPH Whoa. At 16?!

FANNING Yeah, it’s so disgusting. And I can laugh at it now, like, “What a disgusting pig!”

How did you digest it at the time?

FANNING I was always immensely confident, but of course you’re growing up in the public eye, and it’s weird. I’ll look at paparazzi photos from when I was 12 and think, “Is that a good thing to see such a mirror of yourself at that age?” I don’t feel like it damaged me, but it definitely made me very aware of myself. You (to Lyonne) were in it from a young age, too.

LYONNE Oh yeah. But that’s really messed up. I remember auditioning for Lolita, the remake, when I was 14 or 15, and it was like, “Can you eat this banana slowly?”

ALL (Gasps.)

LYONNE And I was already a bit of a tough guy, so I was like (in a low voice), “So you mean eat the banana slowly?” But it’s sick. Ultimately, it seems like your question is one about stepping into autonomy — and certainly being able to find a measure of autonomy, that’s the blessing of having some success. You can be a little more selective and wise about what you’re stepping into.

EDEBIRI I was so impressed by you (to Ortega) just expressing yourself and being like, “I have thoughts about this thing that I’m doing. You didn’t just hire me to be a vase. I have things that I can bring to this part and to this job. I’m not just here to smile.” We’re not doing that anymore.

JACOBS Do you have notes with scripts when you get them?

EDEBIRI I have thoughts.

Do you share them?

EDEBIRI I try to, but also I’ve written and produced. I can think about a script like a writer.

LYONNE That’s valuable. As a director, when somebody comes to set and knows what they’re doing and they have a take, you’re actually quite grateful.

EDEBIRI It’s collaboration. It’s not just showing up, like (in a dramatic voice), “Hey, you won’t believe the ideas I’ve got.”

LYONNE What happened with your situation, Jenna? I’ve heard you be vocal about it.

And, if I’m not mistaken, your role on the show has changed?

FANNING She’s going to be Thursday. (Laughter.)

ORTEGA I feel really, really fortunate to be coming on as a producer this time around. I was going to piggyback off of what you (to Edebiri) were saying — any of the best teams or environments that I’ve been on on set have been people who are very collaborative and wanted to hear different opinions because it’s very easy for people to get caught up in their own. I think a project is best when there’s as many voices and ideas thrown out as possible. And I’ve had experiences in TV where I felt my voice wasn’t heard, that I was meant to be a puppet. I’ve been told on sets, “You wouldn’t know because you’re not a writer,” or, “Just shut up and do your job.” From 12 years old, I’ve been hearing things like that. So, I went into Wednesday with hesitance. But I was fortunate to be working with someone like Tim Burton, who pulled me in his trailer one day and said that he wanted to be a soundboard for my voice. So, every day, me, him, the writers, we’d get together in the morning and go through sides. But also being younger, being a woman, being of smaller stature …

LYONNE I identify with that a lot, being little. For me, it’s also big hair and a New York accent. I’m like, “Oh, so you think it’s this kind of [low] IQ? I’m on to you, buddy.”

ORTEGA Exactly. But I think that because I’m someone who is very opinionated or because I know what it’s like to be a people pleaser in this industry, and I know how unhappy or how frustrating it’s been in the past, when I went into Wednesday I really put my foot down and made it clear that everything that I had to say mattered and was heard. And as the show went on, we all got a better feel for one another and it’s become a really collaborative experience, and I feel really lucky to be able to be in the room early next season and be talking about scripts and giving notes.

RALPH Listening to this is very interesting because, for me, on Abbott, we have such a powerful writer, creator, producer in Quinta, who has cherry-picked everybody who comes on. I just have to show up and do my job. I don’t even read my scripts. I swear to God. We have a table read, and that’s when I start turning the pages for the first time. And usually, I get up and say, “Another great episode. Thank you.”

Presumably that had not been your experience prior to Abbott?

RALPH Oh no, no, no. That’s why this one is so sweet. There have been those moments, back to the beginning, where somebody literally told me after the reading, “You’re just not Black enough. Can you just be a little bit Blacker?”

What does that even mean?

RALPH That’s exactly right. I was always confused about what is the Blacker of it all? So now I’m at this point where I don’t have to say to somebody, “Can we try it this way? I don’t think the character would really say that.” Or, “This really isn’t who I believe you’re trying to show the world.” Now, it’s just like, “That’s exactly what you want to show the world. Thank you.” I go to work now at Abbott and I just exhale.

Devery, you moved into the writers room for season two, and now you’re directing in season three. Do those doors open because you spoke up and offered your opinion?

JACOBS It did. I guess I’m one of the annoying actors who comes in with notes.

RALPH
That’s not annoying. We all have done it.

ORTEGA And if anyone makes you feel annoying for doing it, you just keep moving.

RALPH That’s right.

JACOBS Oh no, they gave me a job, so I’m good. But, yeah, I definitely came in with notes and thoughts. And season one, I’d made it apparent to the network that I wanted to shadow, and they were like, “That’s great, we’d love to have you, but you’re in every episode.” Basically, do the job that we paid you to do. And I was like, “That’s fine.” But by season two, I’d reached out to the showrunner and pleaded my case to be a part of the room. Sterlin was just like, “You’re part of it, come on in.” I was only supposed to be there for five weeks, and they just kept extending it until I was part of the whole [season]. So, it’s just been a progression. I shadowed last season, and I wrapped my first episode of TV [as a director] two days ago.

Elle, The Great is your first experience as a producer. When have you needed to use your voice in the role, and how has it been received?

FANNING Well, I’d never really done a TV show before this. I mean, I guest-starred on CSI: Miami when I was young.

You did some very dark stuff when you were young.

FANNING Oh yeah, I burned a house down or something. (Laughs.) With The Great, I feel like I’ve grown with each season, and now, season three, I feel so comfortable in that role. I really love editing. It’s like this crazy puzzle watching all the takes. And Tony McNamara, the showrunner, is such a special person. So, yes, I have notes, but it’s because he allows me that space and he views me as a producer. A lot of people, especially when you’re an actor and a producer, are like, “Oh, it’s just a vanity title that you get.” And it’s frustrating. Sometimes I’m sure that’s the case, but I’m like, “It’s not [the case] for me.”

Natasha, you were wearing several hats on Russian Doll. I’ve been surprised to hear you say that doors didn’t open as a result.

LYONNE Oh, it’s funny when you are the writer, the creator, the director and the star and you have 13 nominations or whatever, and it’s not like, “Here’s a bunch of Marvel movies.” In fact, they’re like, “Oh, now we see you as potentially intimidating.” But to my mind, the male auteurs, and I guess I am naming names, the Bill [Haders] and Donald Glovers — by the way, you’re talking about all brilliant people that I love. In other words, I’m talking about an industry thing, not a personal thing, but for some reason it’s much easier to say, “Oh my God, this person is brilliant and fun to watch, let’s put them in a bunch of stuff.” It’s just very different for boys and girls, although I would say the exception might be Larry David. It might be that he is actually not getting a lot of calls from Marvel. Or maybe he is and he’s just like, “Um, no thanks.”

For the record, I’d love to see Larry David’s Marvel movie.

LYONNE I don’t even mean anything to Marvel. And it can be unintentional. I think a lot of it is people trying to be generous, almost saying, “Oh, I didn’t know you’d want to do that kind of thing. Like, you created PEN15, why would you want to …” And I don’t know those ladies personally, but I don’t suddenly see them on billboards all over the city for rom-coms or whatever.

EDEBIRI I think there’s this feeling of like, “Hey, good for you, girlboss, you want to do your own stuff, keep going, bye!” Like, “Oh, you want to be an independent lady? Great, have fun!”

LYONNE And the truth of those experiences is they’re very work-intensive. So if you spend seven months in the middle of nowhere, memorizing 60 pages a week, it’s very fun, you’re doing your passion, but at the end of it, it’d be fun to be like, “OK, I guess now I’ll make out with this hunk in this weird rom-com or something.” I’m sure it’s also connected to age, and, for me, having a defined personality has been a real double-edged sword.

How so?

LYONNE It finally was the thing that tipped me into being in the mix at all. With Russian Doll, it was kind of like, “Oh, now we get it.” And I’m so grateful, but on the other hand, it’s like now that you have a defined personality, we don’t know exactly how to play it.

ORTEGA They don’t see you anywhere. And it’s interesting, too, how if you aren’t established enough in the industry yet, or you haven’t been independent enough, they say that they want to see you for who you are and what it is that you do — then you go and join these projects, or you join this campaign, and they still want you to fit that box. So they play into what you are feeling, and then they still want you to be that puppet or that perfect doll, and you’re not.

LYONNE You’re talking about typecasting.

ORTEGA Not even typecasting, just you as an individual artist or person. I do think that especially with social media and all that, people are so much stricter on women and how they’re supposed to come across. And if a woman says something that could potentially sound negative or is assertive and just honest, they’re going to be criticized a lot more heavily for what it is that they say or do. When you’re not established, people take that as an opportunity to establish you themselves. I’ve had multiple instances where people say they want to see you for you, but then they only want you a certain way.

How do you fight back?

ORTEGA Sometimes you’ve got to play stupid — in one ear, out the other. Because you get there and it’s, “Oh, can you smile more? Can you have more energy?”

LYONNE Sometimes I think, what if I walked in like Harvey Keitel, which is kind of my vibe. I don’t think it would be, like, “Are you having fun?” And it’s with the best intentions, but it’s so patronizing to be asked, “Are you having fun?” Or, “What’s it like wearing all those hats? Oh my God, you’re writing and directing on Reservation Dogs, how are you doing all of it and starring?” There’s this little bit of a fucking tone with it that is, “How does she do it all? And is it fun? Wearing those outfits, is that so fun?” And I just don’t think it would come up with Harvey Keitel, is all I’m saying. And I love the work, I love what we do, and it would make it a lot easier to focus on the work if you didn’t have to have the secondary thing of also being, like, “Part of my job is to be a homemaker in all situations.”

EDEBIRI Just navigating identity also where it’s like, “I just want to do my job.” I’m happy to be a Black woman and I’m happy to be a multihyphenate, but it’s like, I don’t want to always talk about that, I would love a question about literally anything else.

So, what should people be asking?

LYONNE It’s a fair question. On some level, it’s sort of like, “What do you believe in?” I think the thing that’s tricky is that it’s almost like it’s implicit that you’re the victim of your own story instead of the owner of your narrative. And I am happy to volunteer with full transparency — I’ll tell you anything you want to know, but it’s my choice to tell you, not the other way around.

EDEBIRI You are allowed to bring that up on your own — and also, it doesn’t have to be as yourself. It can be through your work.

LYONNE Exactly. I just had it happen in weird situations, like Barbara Walters being like, “Child actor. Crack cocaine. Why?” I’m like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, lady, chill. I will happily tell you about my life experience. It’s out there. You can fucking google it. But instead of me being able to volunteer it through my work, you’re making it like you’ve discovered something about me that now I’m a victim of, when in fact it’s something I’ve overcome.”

The industry likes to put people in boxes. What has that looked like for all of you, and, at the same time, what’s the type of call you don’t get but would love to? Like, is the Marvel call appealing?

LYONNE Only for the Larry David movie, which is just us running around trying to catch him.

EDEBIRI I feel like his Marvel movie is that he’s just a guy whose life keeps getting destroyed by all the superheroes fighting.

ORTEGA And he’s annoyed.

EDEBIRI Yeah, really annoyed, and he becomes the villain.

LYONNE It’s very Rick Moranis in Ghostbusters, this Marvel movie.

RALPH I do like the idea of being a Marvel hero. I used to think you just have to look a certain way, but now they build these costumes for the men, so I’m like, “OK, just put me in it.” You (to Lyonne) would be my sister, and all of you would be my daughters, and we would go out into the world and we’d just ship, shape and morph and just be boss and take over.

ALL (Cheers.)

EDEBIRI I’m available to vanity produce for those projects. (Laughter.)

JACOBS It’s interesting what you (to Ralph) said about feeling like you have to look a certain way to be in the Marvel world. Because for me, and by no means am I a bigger person, I’m very tiny, I’m very much built like a Mohawk person, but there was so much pressure in the industry to look a certain way and there was always this thought of, “Oh, I need to be thin or be fit to be able to be in a Marvel project.” And then I was cast in one, a [forthcoming Marvel] show [Echo], and I was like, “Now I have to be fit and I have to do all these things.” But then I was like, “Hang on. I’ve already been cast exactly as I am right now.” So, I feel like I’m constantly oscillating between feeling the pressure of that and then reminding myself of who I am and what my values are. That’s something that, as a woman, is always on the table to navigate.

RALPH And it’s interesting when you talk about yourself as a Native American. Through what we’ve seen in old Westerns, it’s always “You’re supposed to look like Pocahontas.” That’s their only frame of reference.

JACOBS Yep.

RALPH And in so many ways, the history and the way it’s not being taught, we don’t know that it’s the whole continent. When I saw you all in Oklahoma [on the show], I was just like, “Indians in Oklahoma?” Duh, yeah, of course. Indians in Massachusetts, Indians in Vancouver, it’s the whole continent, but we always think, “Pocahontas.”

JACOBS I want to respectfully just say that for us, we call ourselves Indians, but for other people, I’d say Indigenous people. And I say that with all the love.

RALPH Listen, I respect that. One of the things that doesn’t happen is the greater communication for people to understand and know. It’s sort of like, you can be Black, you’ve been colored, you’ve been Negro, you’ve been Afro-American, you’ve been African American, you’ve been Black. It’s like, “OK, which one are we?” If you don’t have the conversation with people, they don’t know, and I get it. Indigenous people, those who were here first.

Ayo, you actually got the Marvel call. You’ll be in Thunderbolts. Is that the pinnacle of “I’ve made it,” or is it something else?

EDEBIRI Oh yeah, uh-huh, maybe. I don’t know if there’s an NDA or a drone around. No, I got a call. And I think it’s great. But the pinnacle for me would be to make my own things. I’m developing my own shows, and I have ideas in this weird little head of mine. I love collaborating and I love watching things that are challenging and make me feel things. I sometimes have calls with my agents where I’m like, “I read this weird script a year after, I would’ve loved a part in this.” I don’t care if it’s a big part or a small part, I would’ve loved to just be a part of something that is interesting and kind of strange. I want to do things like that. I want to be the freaks on Letterboxd.

JACOBS I love your Letterboxd.

FANNING I’m not on Letterboxd. It’s all the movies you’ve watched?

EDEBIRI You log them and sometimes say your opinions. I’ve been doing less word reviews because people are giving me heat.

Speaking of entertaining social media, I believe your Twitter bio still says you’re the showrunner …

EDEBIRI Of The Kominsky Method, yeah. I haven’t seen an episode, but I’m definitely in charge of the room.

LYONNE You’ve got a lot of crazy stuff in your head. By the way, congratulations!

EDEBIRI Thank you. I love my cast and crew, they’re all so old and awesome. (Laughter.) No, I just thought it would be funny to do that. And then, because I work on Big Mouth, which is a Netflix show, I kept being like, “Shouldn’t they let me come in and write an episode?” And they were like, “No, you’re online talking about The Kominsky Method and lying. We’re not going to help you get in there.” But they sent me a shirt, which was pretty sick.

How about the rest of you? Jenna, Sheryl, Elle, what are the roles where you go, “Please don’t call me for that again”?

LYONNE I like the idea that you (to Fanning) have a dark bone in your body and you’re like (in a gruff voice), “Don’t call me for that again.” You don’t seem like that person.

FANNING That’s the problem, though. That’s it. That’s the box, that I don’t have a dark bone in my body. I do!

EDEBIRI You want to burn a house down.

FANNING I do! Obviously, I was Sleeping Beauty in Maleficent, and you can’t get sweeter or pinker or blonder, and I’m cool with that, but for a while I was most known for being either a child actor or a Disney princess. That’s a box that I feel like, a couple of years ago, I really was trying to shatter. I don’t even know what people thought, but I thought, “This is all they think of for me.” The Great, again, it’s like a blond royal, but it’s so turned on its head because it’s raunchy and violent and we’re saying the C-word every other word. Oh, I still say “the C-word.” (Laughs)

LYONNE The C-word is coochy-coo. It’s weird on a period level, but they make it work.

FANNING Right. I am grateful for the show, because I don’t feel I’m fighting against the child actor thing anymore.

ORTEGA For me, I used to do Disney, and it was that for a while. Now I’m the deadpan girl. People come up to me and ask me to “do the thing.”

EDEBIRI Just remove any emotion?

ORTEGA Exactly. Or if I don’t have a lot of expression one day, it’s, “Oh, she’s doing that thing again!” So I know what it’s like to feel like I’m fighting some sort of image. But I feel like I’m in a position now and I’m getting familiar enough with my work that I know when I do jobs, I just want them to mean something to me. It’s also surreal and hard for me to grasp everything that’s happened in the last six months.

RALPH When I listen to all of this, I [realize] we’ve all had so many different opportunities, and having been here 40 years, which is a long time, I really have to thank the industry for finding space for all of us. It’s like, my God, we are a breath of fresh, fabulous air.

Interview edited for length and clarity.

This story first appeared in the June 7 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. [Source]


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This site is always looking for pictures that we don't have up, so if you have scans, stills, shoots or any other picture that we could use, send to us. Full credits will be given.
Site Stats & Disclaimer

Name: Elle Fanning Fan
Since: February 11st, 2012
Owner: Anne
Version: 6th


We are in no way affiliated or connected with Elle Fanning, and this site is in no way official. This is just a fansite, created by fans. We don't know anything about her personal life except what is on this site. Everything on this site is © 2012-2024 Elle Fanning Fan unless other is noted. Do not remove anything without permission. No copyright infringement is ever intended.
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This fansite is strictly against any paparazzi or stalkerazzi pictures. We will not support any kind of bashing or privacy intrusion into Elle’s life and/or the one of people around her. The gallery contains just paparazzi photos related to Elle’s work, such as on-set photos and promotional related (arriving or leaving TV Shows…)

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© Elle Fanning Fan 2012-2024
All here is copyrighted by Elle Fanning Fan unless other is noted.

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